Sheffield’s ‘green lungs’ shape the city through heritage, education, sport and community

High Hazels Park in Darnall, Sheffield.

High Hazels Park in Darnall, Sheffield.

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Sheffield’s parks and woodlands are a key part of the city’s big push to become known as The Outdoor City, and have shaped its history and culture.

From providing the charcoal that fuelled the steel industry, to acting as a place where people from all backgrounds can mix, Sheffield’s ‘green lungs’ play many roles.

Ecclesall Woods. Woodlands officer Jon Dallow.

Ecclesall Woods. Woodlands officer Jon Dallow.

The city’s open spaces have always been here – but the way in which people use them is now being carefully examined through the Outdoor City project.

Jon Dallow is one of Sheffield Council’s woodland officers, and has been involved in the scheme since the beginning.

“We have this huge free natural asset of woodland that people are using,” he said. “We are thinking about links and infrastructure.

“We have got huge important open spaces which provide green lungs for Sheffield. They provide habitats and biodiversity. We are trying to juggle archaeology, biodiversity, the economy. We are looking at what can be bringing money in, be it timber sales or just a café.

Ecclesall Woods. Outdoor learning officer Isabelle Shephard.

Ecclesall Woods. Outdoor learning officer Isabelle Shephard.

“But the most important thing is people. We are in a really vibrant city. Everyone in Sheffield is within 20 minutes’ walk of a woods. We have to think: ‘How is the green space the foundation to The Outdoor City?’”

Jon is based at Ecclesall Woods, which offers a huge range of activities through the JG Graves Woodland Discovery Centre. From school education sessions and health walks, to postgraduate research projects and one of the city’s new Run Routes, the opportunities are many and varied.

“It’s about embedding it into the city,” said Jon. “We work with Ride Sheffield and we build mountain bike trails. With Parkwood Springs, we need to think how we can make it a site for the whole city? At Ecclesall Woods we have got a school here today doing an education session. We have conservation volunteers out doing work near Glen Howe Park. On Thursday we have health walkers come along, we have a wood run, and Grow Theatre, which is a youth theatre group. We have got local businesses involved.

“It’s the thing of fusing together the community for the greater good.”

Ecclesall Woods. The start of one of the new Outdoor City run routes.

Ecclesall Woods. The start of one of the new Outdoor City run routes.

Jon believes Sheffield’s heritage has helped shape its environment, and vice versa.

He said: “Ten years ago we restored Sheffield’s ancient woodlands, which are all linked into the steel industry. The woods gave us charcoal, which meant we could make steel. We have always had that identity.

“You have Graves Park which was gifted by the JG Graves Charitable Trust – green space gifted by industrialists. We had the Clarion Ramblers who were linked to access.

“Fast forward the clock and you are talking about cities, infrastructure, participation and the image of Sheffield. But it’s not as if people haven’t been involved in green spaces before. What’s really exciting now is that awakening and understanding through the Outdoor City.

Ecclesall Woods. University of Sheffield postgraduates carry out an iron smelting project.

Ecclesall Woods. University of Sheffield postgraduates carry out an iron smelting project.

“We’ve almost got a guild of outdoor businesses, users and associations – like the Cutlers’ Company.”

Nowhere is this more obvious than at Ecclesall Woods, where a workshop houses businesses such as Handspring Design, while metres away postgraduate students are smelting iron with medieval techniques.

Jon added: “It’s great that we have got universities and businesses coming together. But at the same time we have the grassroots: conservation groups, friends groups all over the city, really caring for and wanting to look after these green spaces.”

The Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust looks after a number of woods, including Greno Woods and Moss Valley.

Chief executive Liz Ballard said: “Sheffield is unique – a vibrant city with fantastic natural outdoor spaces. Some of the most beautiful woodlands in the area are literally on the doorstep. The woodlands, nature reserves and green open spaces that are within and around the city can support a lifestyle that just can’t be replicated elsewhere.

“Our nature reserves provide a great backdrop to city living, providing fantastic opportunities to exercise, learn about wildlife and enjoy all the health benefits of connecting with nature.”

Volunteers from Carillion lend a hand at High Hazels Park in Darnall.

Volunteers from Carillion lend a hand at High Hazels Park in Darnall.

The trust is also involved in the project. Liz called it a ‘fantastic opportunity for the city to really show what a great place it is to live and work’. And while conservation, education and marketing the city are undoubtedly important, at their most basic level Sheffield’s green spaces are a great equaliser.

Paul Campbell is a member of the Friends of High Hazels Park, a green space in Darnall. His group has raised about £1m since it formed in 1998.

“Parks are very important indeed,” said Paul. “On a busy day the park will be full of people. We have a large ethnic community in Darnall and they love it. For a multi-ethnic community like Darnall where there have been tensions from time to time, when they are at the park they all get on.

“I grew up in this park. I’m Darnall born and bred. I used to come here all the time and it was marvellous.”

The Friends rely on volunteers to help with the park’s upkeep, and often have teams from city businesses there on team-building days.

Paul, who is chairman of the Sheffield Green Spaces Forum, said: “Sheffield has a tremendous number of parks. What I’m trying to do is go round looking for grot spots and see if we can fix them up with volunteers.

“We have been getting volunteers in for five years. They have been absolutely crucial. There are only 10 of us regulars. We are all pensioners except two. It’s vital to have this outside help.”

And Paul is looking to the future – which is where outdoors drive comes in.

“What we really need is the next generation to come along,” he said. “The Outdoor City can be a way to engage younger people.”

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High Hazels Park in Darnall, Sheffield. Paul Campbell of the Friends of High Hazels Park.

High Hazels Park in Darnall, Sheffield. Paul Campbell of the Friends of High Hazels Park.

Children playing at Greno Woods, Sheffield. Photo: Paul Hobson

Children playing at Greno Woods, Sheffield. Photo: Paul Hobson

Bluebells at Moss Valley, Sheffield. Photo: Amy Hattersley

Bluebells at Moss Valley, Sheffield. Photo: Amy Hattersley